Saturday, June 1, 2019

Oh Shit. It's June!

One of my sixth grade teachers at Dixie Canyon Elementary School, May Ambo, instilled fear in me about the month of June.

I was in her reading class, and we had been given the opportunity to choose from a selection of her small library of books at the start of the year.  I chose, “The Blue Man,” by Kin Platt.  From the cover, it looked like some sort of mystery.  And blue was my favorite color.  Apparently, my criteria for choosing book assignments at the time was based on loose association.  I really didn’t like reading much back then anyways.  Such a contrast to how I am now.  I am constantly reading.

I was part of the brighter class section.  Four home rooms rotated through four teachers each day…let’s see if I remember them…Ms. Zimmerman was our homeroom hostess and also our social studies teacher.  Ms. Trot was our history teacher.  She had a monotone way about her.  Ms. Bihn, a colorful southern woman, was our math teacher…and Ms. Ambo, English. 

The other classroom rotations in that grade were not as advanced in their studies as ours was. I think that was my mother's doing.  She was in the teaching profession and made sure that I was placed into the highest class group.  And though, I was not at the top of the class and was particularly slow at reading, I definitely benefited from being surrounded by motivated students.  A boy named Larry Friedman and a girl named Jill Goldring were the highest testers in the class. They also had warm and fun personalities, which made them popular.

Ms. Ambo set up occasional individual student meetings, maybe every three weeks, to see how we were all doing with our books.  Our book reports were due in about two months.  I seems a vast amount of time, but we did have other schoolwork, to be fair to our collective selves. 

I nervously anticipated the day of my assigned meeting with her as I had not even started the book, and we were in February by now.  When I got settled in the cold, wooden interview chair next to her desk, she said, “Tell me what the book's about so far.”  I had nothing to say.  “I really haven’t started it yet!” She then raised her raspy, choppy Japanese voice loudly at me, “Well Fred, you can’t put your studies off like this.  You’re going to go all the way through June, and you won’t have read the book!”  Her pronunciation of the word, June, and all other related rhymes tended hit the "oo" really hard, and therefore, "June" ricocheted throughout the hard surfaces of the classroom; "Joooon!" 

And by June, she was exaggerating, of course, relating the month of when we would all be graduated out of elementary school.  But having taken on an over-ripe lobster hued face and a pounding heart, I just wanted to die. I was then excused, having contributed nothing to the meeting but disappointment.

Oh God!  How embarrassing.  I’m sure Larry, Jill, and Carrie Tannenbaum, another smart and very cute girl I might add, had all heard my public thrashing, keeping their heads down, feigning not being aware of my lashing out of sibling politeness.  How could they not have?  After all, this had all happened just feet away from where my students mates were supposed to be silently studying and reading.  I could have tapped one of their toes with my shoe.

I eventually read the book, finishing the last section of it in my small bathroom in my white, terry cloth robe with a flashlight illuminating the pages since it was past my bedtime.  It got exciting towards the end, and it surprised me that I could get so involved in a book. 

I told someone recently that this moment, the painful moment of chastising from Ms. Ambo, really made a difference for me.  The embarrassment and the panic stricken feeling that I had of being behind in my responsibilities.  It’s not like I never procrastinated again.  But I knew that I would really never NOT finish something that was due.

Ms. Ambo helped me in that way, probably through my studies at U.S.C., and through my work at Walt Disney, and later, DreamWorks Animation.  I never asked for more time to complete work at university, or held off on doing tasks at the studios.  With my real estate clients, I jump on the work as soon as I get each listing.  One of my co-workers at Walt Disney once said to me, "You get things done like they were needed yesterday!"  That, I do.  I hate the feeling of something hanging over one's head.

But Ms. Ambo indelibly ingrained a decided dedication to work and responsibility, along with my parents.  It’s just a lifelong reflex now.  And ultimately, wasn't that May Ambo's job?  To instill in her students something really lasting?  It's interesting that it wasn't so much the material that she gave me to study, but rather, the interaction that transpired between us that made the real enduring impact.

Thank you, Ms. Ambo.